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China leaders vow fairness, frugality as nation strives for 'Chinese dream'

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
March 17, 2013 -- Updated 0620 GMT (1420 HKT)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives for his first news conference Sunday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives for his first news conference Sunday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese leaders pledge to press ahead with government reform
  • Premier Li says common interests between the U.S. and China outweigh differences
  • He describes hacking as a worldwide problem, saying China is a main target

Hong Kong (CNN) -- President Xi Jinping promised citizens his government will pursue the "Chinese dream," in a keynote speech as the National People's Congress came to a close on Sunday.

"We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," Xi said, according to state news agency Xinhua.

XI spoke in crisp, clear Mandarin, in relatively plain language, in keeping with his desire to drop the jargon traditionally sprinkled through official speeches and text.

In his speech, Xi paid tribute to his predecessor, Hu Jintao, 70, who is retiring, commending his "outstanding contributions" over the years. Xi paused to allow a long applause from the 3,000 delegates in the Great Hall of the People as Hu stood up and took a bow.

READ: China's new leaders: Who's who

Xi's speech was followed by the first news conference by Premier Li Keqiang who, like Xi, was confirmed as one of the nation's new leaders during the meeting. They are replacing Hu and Wen Jiabao, who led the country for 10 years.

During the question and answer session broadcast to millions nationwide, Li addressed China's relationship with the United States and recent friction over allegations that Chinese hackers had targeted U.S. networks.

Common interests between the U.S and China far outweigh the differences, he said, and stressed the need to maintain friendly ties.

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On the issue of hacking, Li took exception to a reporter's question, saying it presumed guilt.

"This is a worldwide problem and in fact China itself a main target. We are opposed to such activities," he said.

"I think we should not make groundless accusations against each other and spend more time doing practical things that contribute to cyber security."

In front of hundreds of local and foreign journalists in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Li said the new government was seeking to curb its own power.

"This is demanded by the government and wanted by the people. We are determined to make that sacrifice ... we will keep our promise."

Li acknowledged that shaking up the system would be difficult -- "sometimes stirring vested interests may be more difficult than stirring the soul" -- but that the government had no choice but to act.

READ: Three challenges for new leaders

He said the aim was to create a fairer country.

"Whatever kind of wealth creator you are -- as long as you compete on a level playing field and conduct your business in a clear and honest way then you will be able to taste success," he said.

During visits to communities, he said, locals complained that they had to seek approval from several departments to get something done.

About 1,700 items still require the approval of state council departments, he said, and his government plans to cut that by a third.

Echoing recent comments from the president, Li said the government would lead by example, reducing spending on government offices, buildings, travel and hospitality. Instead, money would be redirected toward social spending.

"We need to win the trust of the people by promoting frugality," Li said.

He said the government would strive to be "the guardian of social fairness," and work to narrow what he called the "two biggest gaps" between the people; urban and rural dwellers, and people from different regions.

"We need to raise the level at which social security funds are managed. And in the area of medical and old age insurance, we need to make sure that people can reimburse their expenses and transfer their accounts to where they currently reside."

Achieving economic stability remained the government's priority, the premier said, while repeating economic targets this year of 7.5% annual growth.

"Our trade will continue to grow and even at a high speed in the years ahead," Li said. " That will create enormous opportunities for the world."

However, economic growth will not come at the cost of the environment, he said, adding that complaints about pollution and tainted food supplies had been heard.

CNN's Jaime Florcruz contributed to this report

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